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Three loosely linked novels by Lois McMaster Bujold set in a reasonably historically accurate counterpart to medieval Europe, with a pantheon of five gods (the Father, Mother, Daughter, Son and Bastard) — fairly activist gods, but ones who are incapable of acting directly on the physical world, requiring them to work through willing humans. In publication order:
- The Curse of Chalion (the Daughter's book)
- Paladin of Souls (the Bastard's book)
- The Hallowed Hunt (the Son's book)
- Adipose Rex: Roya Orico is both obese and sickly, frequently with food stains on his clothing. He is a peripheral force for good at best and his moral weakness puts major characters in peril.
- Always Second Best: Illvin to Arhys. Illvin doesn't mind though, since his half-brother has a bad case of "Well Done, Son" Guy towards his dead father
- And I Must Scream: The fate of the heirs of Horseriver.
- And Then What?: Ijada's extremely practical response when Ingrey offers to let her escape. Ingrey thinks she can escape into the woods and to her kin; Ijada thinks it likely she'll just end up eaten by a bear.
- Another Man's Terror: In Curse of Chalion, Cazaril prays for a death
magicmiracle. If it succeeds, it will kill both himself and his target. After he completes the ritual, he hallucinates that he is his victim, who chokes to death on his own tongue.
- Attempted Rape: Boleso tries it on Ijada just before the beginning of the novel, which not-coincidentally opens with Ingrey going to collect Boleso's body.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Ingrey becoming the hallow king for one night.
- Balancing Death's Books: Death magic.
- Badass Bookworm: Technically Cazaril is Royesse Iselle's tutor and he is very erudite. He's also a dirty fighter and will stop at nothing to help "his ladies", supernatural curses, supernatural tumors and evil chancellors be damned.
- Black Magic: More death magic.
- Blessed with Suck: If the gods bequeath a supernatural gift on you, even if it looks good on paper, it's going to make your life very uncomfortable/painful.
"You are the tool, not the work. Expect to be treated accordingly."
- Body Horror: A demon can manifest in you as a magical tumor... which eventually grows teeth and claws and tears its way out of you. Was terrifying for Cazaril until it turned out he had a +5 Holy Tumor Of Evil Chancellor Slaying.
- The really bad part was that Cazaril was less disturbed by the demon than by the soul of Dondo dy Jironal, said Evil Chancellor's rather more evil kid brother, who is stuck in the same tumor, happens to be vocally upset over the whole matter, and may be "leaking".
- The Book Cipher: Used in The Curse of Chalion when Cazaril and Iselle need to communicate privately over long distances.
- Bury Your Gays: In The Curse of Chalion, Ias and dy Lutez both died in the backstory, as did Umegat's partner.
- Cassandra Truth: Ista was labeled insane for years—turns out she was just truthfully recounting the visions the gods were sending to her. This may have been a punishment for killing Dy Lutez.
- A Child Shall Lead Them: Iselle
- Chekhov's Gun: There are a quite a few.
- Chekhov's Gift: Dondo probably did not intend to save the life of Iselle's betrothed when he gave her an extravagant strand of pearls.
- Cazaril carries both Chekhov's Tumor and Chekhov's Scars.
- Chekhov's Army: The Order of the Daughter. Who knew a bunch of hardened soldiers sworn to the service of the Goddess of Virginity could help the maiden princess defend herself from unwanted suitors?
- Chick Magnet: Arhys is quite blessed by the Father. Indeed, it proves an important plot point.
- Compelling Voice: This is one benefit of harboring a spirit animal, as Ingrey discovers when he stops a raging ice bear with nothing but a firm verbal command. Horseriver—being a bit more powerful and a lot more experienced—can employ even more complicated tricks, overlapping with Jedi Mind Tricks and Mind Control.
- Completely Missing the Point: It's Cattilara's main character trait.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Quintarian faith, while its theology is different and well-developed, fills the cultural role of the medieval Catholic Church. The Quadrene religion is closely related to Quintarianism but disagrees on a few very significant points, making it somewhat parallel the relationship between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
- Curse: Obviously a central theme in the first two books. Also important in the third, but there it is generally referred to as a "geas," and is another way a saying "magically compelled."
- Cursed with Awesome: Ingrey's "defilement" grants some wicked cool abilities like Compelling Voice, superhuman strength and a general air of being angsty and tortured—although for good reason, as he's (seemingly) still going to be cut off from the gods when he dies.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
- Death magic is not only forbidden by law; if successful it results in the death of both the target and the perpetrator.
- Technically, it's only attempted death magic which is forbidden. If you succeed, you have miracle. But you're still dead.
- Sorcery is dangerous mostly due to the very thin line between possessing a demon and demonic possession.
- Possessing a spirit-animal gives on great physical strength and speed. Unfortunately, it may also drive the bearer mad, or leave them sundered from the gods at their death, unless another shaman is available to exorcize their soul.
- Death magic is not only forbidden by law; if successful it results in the death of both the target and the perpetrator.
- Dark Is Not Evil/Light Is Not Good: Played with. The Bastard's associated color is white... and he's the lord of demons and god of disasters, who people tend to try to appease rather than worship. Except... his role is to rein in and control demons so they don't hurt humans, and he's also the god of unexpected blessings. Further, most of his "disasters" are either Xanatos Gambits to eventually better humanity's lot, or desperate measures to control the damage caused by the other gods' meddling.
- Paladin of Souls suggests that the Bastard maintains the balance between order and chaos, keeping the world between frozen stasis and destruction.
- Likewise, the Father's colors are black and grey, but he's the god of fatherhood, leadership, and justice.
- Dead All Along: Arhys
- Deadly Decadent Court
- The Determinator: Cazaril's not gonna let a little thing like having a deadly tumor infested by a demon and the sundered soul of a homicidal rapist in his stomach stop him!
- Deus Ex Machina: Used literally but judiciously. Most of the gods' works require human hands, but every once in a while they get to be the Big Damn Heroes.
- Cazaril is host to two miracles. The Bastard granted his prayer for a Death Miracle, and the Lady of Spring restrained the demon which should have flown away with his soul and Dondo's.
- Subverted at the end of The Curse of Chalion. Witnesses were left thinking that The Lady of Spring struck dy Jironal with a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky, for the crime of offering violence on Her day, when what they were really witnessing was the undoing of her earlier miracle.
- Arhys' sundered soul is saved when The Father of Winter makes Ista his living door into heaven.
- A subtle one, but technically the Son of Autumn saved Ijada from Boleso's assault.
- Did Do the Research: Horses get tired and riders get muddy. You can't swim in plate armor. Sheltered maidens can't wield cavalry weapons (without help). Bujold cuts no corners on historical accuracy, and rather uses it to add tension and drama.
- Drop the Hammer: Though it's unclear exactly how, the Son of Autumn and a leopard-spirit enabled maidenly Ijada to bash a would-be rapist's brains in with his own big-ass war hammer.
- Everything's Worse with Bears: Zigzagged in all three books.
- In The Curse of Chalion, the sick Roya Orico becomes much sicker when his pet bear is killed along with the rest of his menagerie, which was a gift from the Temple that magically kept him alive. But the leopard was the scary and dangerous animal.
- In Paladin of Souls, a bear shows up, Foix dy Gura kills it, and the demon that was possessing the bear jumps into Foix.
- In The Hallowed Hunt, Fafa the ice bear isn't killed, but:
Ijada: I was imagining the most bizarre things befalling you.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Inverted in the story of the Bastard's origin. His father was a powerful, murderous demon that consumed the soul of a completely unselfish human, and promptly had a conscience forced upon him. Cue My God, What Have I Done? followed by Heel Face Turn.
- Evil Chancellor: Martou dy Jironal, as a result of the curse. Roya Orico, knowing he was cursed to be a terrible ruler, handed the reins over to dy Jironal in hopes of circumventing his fate...but the curse is smarter than that, and perverted dy Jironal's ambition into corruption, making Orico's decision a case of terrible misrule in itself.
- Evil Matriarch: Joen is well into Type 2, with Mind Control possibly even pushing her to Hive Queen status.
- Mr. Fanservice: Bujold refrains from any enthusiastic descriptions of her heroes, but:
- Wherever they go, men sworn to the Daughter's Order are generally looked well upon (and giggled over a lot), what with being gallant defenders of womankind, among other things.
- In The Curse of Chalion, after the Ibran contingent's heroic cross-country ride to bring the groom to Iselle, "they were collecting Chalionese ladies rather as spilled honey collected ants..."
- Arhys is able to make a world-weary middle-aged woman in the middle of traumatic circumstances suddenly rediscover her sexuality through his mere proximity.
A stunning first impression was not the same as love at first sight, but it was certainly an invitation to consider the matter.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: To the Iberian peninsula in the late Reconquista, with the map flipped around so that the Moors (that is, the Roknari) are in the north rather than the south. The Weald is Celtic central Europe.
- First Guy Wins/Last Guy Wins: Zigzagged in Paladin of Souls. Bujold implies that Ista is too old and heartbroken for romance. Then sets up several potential love interests and whips the reader back and forth between them like a terrier with a rat. Then after getting the reader's hopes up she implies that Ista was deluding herself all along. Then she subverts that, too.
- Five-Man Band: At the end of The Hallowed Hunt we have
- The Gods seem to make up one as well:
- And at the end of "Paladin of Souls"
- Flip Personality: Demons in Paladin of Souls. Those with second sight can see who is in control of a body.
- The Four Gods: Not specifically the Chinese ones—they are a Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter—but similar in some respects, for instance in ruling the four seasons. Quintarians also believe in a fifth god, the Bastard, for "all things out of season."
- For Want of a Nail: In the original poem's sense. After Cazaril realizes the extent of the gods' manipulations, he wonders how many men they sent on the road to help Teidez as he was sent to help Iselle, and who never made it.
- A prayer to the Bastard calls this trope explicitly, with indication that it's divinely inspired at the time:
"And the Bastard grant us...in our direst need, the smallest gifts: the nail of the horseshoe, the pin of the axle, the feather at the pivot point, the pebble at the mountain's peak, the kiss in despair, the one right word."
- Gargle Blaster: (The Hallowed Hunt) Jokol's men serve Ingrey a drink that is drunk in one gulp from a tiny glass and tastes like "pine needles."
- Genius Bruiser: Foix dy Gura is far less simple than he looks.
- Give Me a Sign: One of them generally will, though you may regret asking.
- God's Hands Are Tied: The reason why Deus Ex Machina aren't flying around everywhere. Explained in-story that a person who manages to open themselves to the Five Gods is an empty vessel, having surrendered their will completely. Harder than it seems, and not nearly a comfortable thing - see the notes for Blessed with Suck above.
- Grande Dame: The Dowager Provincara dy Baocia is a Meddling Matriarch—her son moved his capitol and court from Valenda to Taryoon to get away from her, and much of her daughter Ista's flight at the beginning of Paladin of Souls is getting away from her even after she's died. Less than a month after her death, the following exchange occurs:
"My lord dy Baocia — as the head of the family now, it's your place to insist she be more sensible!"
- Grand Theft Me: There has been only one Earl Horseriver, and his house's decent from the old Hallow Kings is not a coincidence.
- A Hell of a Time: It's implied that if you're claimed by the Bastard for a lifetime of service to his church, you get this. If you're, say, a gluttonous, cowardly, would-be rapist on the other hand...
- Heroic BSOD: Caz breaks down sobbing after spending almost two years as a galley slave, walking for a month across the mountains as an impoverished beggar then being welcomed into the Provincara's household and given a nightshirt, tooth brush and a soft, warm bed to sleep in.
- Heroic Fatigue: Poor Cazaril!
- Hot Amazon: Ingrey waxes almost poetic about Ijada's tall, statuesque form, not to mention her ability to bash would-be rapists heads in.
- In Love with Your Carnage: Ingrey's lieutenant, Gesca, suggests this is the reason Ingrey finds Ijada attractive.
- Insistent Terminology: As the Bastard's dedicats will tell you, it's a Death Miracle, not magic. The misnomer persists, however.
- King on His Deathbed
- Knight in Sour Armor: Ingrey is determinedly cynical, prompting some teasing from Ijada.
- Laser-Guided Karma: The Bastard's speciality. Also, the slavers on Cazaril's ship suffered particularly Gorn-tastic deaths.
- The Last Dance:
- Cazaril intends to use what time he has left to secure the safety of "his ladies" and the political stability of the kingdom.
- Arhys waltzes into the enemy camp—well outnumbered and expecting to die—gambling that his temporary immunity to injury will break their ranks and allow him to kill the enemy sorcerers.
- Last-Name Basis: Many characters in Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls are referred to by last name; some go by nicknames based on them (Caz from dy Cazaril, Palli from dy Palliar).
- The Last Thing You Ever See: Very much averted, as Caz informs someone stupid enough to threaten him that if he wanted them dead, they'd never see it coming.
- Luke Nounverber: Jokol Skullsplitter. Weald clan names are generally of the form Animallandscape; examples include Wolfcliff, Horseriver, Badgerbank, and Lynxlake.
- Made a Slave: Cazaril comes home fresh from the galley rowbanks at the beginning of The Curse of Chalion. And it had been so bad that after being freed, at first he starts weeping at the slightest cause. Yet his protecting of a fellow rower plays an important part in ending the curse.
- Male Gaze: Used in The Hallowed Hunt when Ingrey starts falling for Ijada. For the female readers, it doubles as an excuse to describe her pretty medieval dresses.
- May–December Romance: Cazaril and Betriz.
- Meaningful Name: Jokol Skullsplitter, but it doesn't mean what you'd think.
- Mission from God: The crux of every book.
- Mistaken for Gay: Apparently a minor hazard of becoming a priest of the Bastard.
- Multiple Choice Past: There's a few different versions of the Bastard's origin floating around, it's not clear whether the Mother literally had sex with a demon or if he is more of a magical construct they created together.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Cazaril, after his plan to get Iselle to marry out of the Curse results in Begeron marrying into it.
- Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Averted.
Umegat: When I was a young lord in the Archipelago, I fell in love.
- No Man of Woman Born: The specific conditions of raising the curse in The Curse of Chalion.
- No Periods, Period: Averted.
- The Obi Wrong: Paladin of Souls is actually Ista's second Call to Adventure. The first time—before the events of the series—she sort of accidentally murdered a guy and went crazy, leaving it to her daughter to sort things out.
- Off on a Technicality: Cazaril isn't arrested for death magic because it turns out only unsuccessful attempts are illegal. Plus the law is mainly there to curb people trying to fake it with poisons and other mundane methods.
- Our Demons Are Different: Demons answer to the Bastard, who is like the House of Hufflepuff when it comes to taking up souls. He takes anyone not covered by the other four gods and is the patron of homosexuals, bastards, and all things out of season. In Chalion, it is acknowledged that demons are Exclusively Evil, but this mostly means that possession of (or by) a demon puts you under the temple's purview. The Roknari, one the other hand, consider the Bastard to be Satan, and the Quintarian religion heresy. They cut off the thumbs, tongue and genitalia of people thought to worship him.
- Pet the Dog: dy Jironal gets a very brief one when Cazaril looks for him in his chancellory office, patting one of his couriers on the shoulder and encouraging him to do his best when the man reports winter snows making travel difficult.
- Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Jokol and his men are frequently subject to speculation that they are pirates. If they in fact are, they are the kind that go around singing, drinking and...that's about it.
- Prince Charming: The role Cazaril desired for Royse Bergeon to play to save Iselle from the titular curse. It didn't quite work out as intended.
- Rasputinian Death: Arhys. Strictly speaking he was dead to begin with, but the Jokonans made very sure he would not get up again once he stopped moving.
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Earl Wencel kin Horseriver has been unwillingly stealing his heirs' bodies for four hundred years.
PrincessQueen Mother: Ista
- Religion Is Magic: Especially if one of the gods takes an interest in you. Also, death magic actualy consists of praying to the Bastard to help you commit a murder-suicide.
- Religion Is Right: For the most part, though it isn't done in an anvilicious way: the church isn't completely immune to corruption, and The Hallowed Hunt presents a character with very legitimate reasons to hate the gods.
- Revival Loophole: This is Ias and dy Lutez's plan for breaking the curse. It doesn't go well.
- Romancing the Widow: Lord Illvin in Paladin of Souls.
- Royally Screwed-Up: The magical version—see title for The Curse of Chalion.
- Runaway Fiancee: Iselle
- Running Gag: There are a few.
- The Curse of Chalion
- People commenting on how old Caz looks with his beard.
- The Hallowed Hunt
- The actual origin of Jokol Skullsplitter's name.
- Whether Jokol is a pirate or a prince.
- Hallana's beleaguered attendants constantly retrieving her braids, capes and pins, and repairing the small things damaged due to her magical Wake of Chaos.
- The Curse of Chalion
- Satan Is Good: Well, the Bastard is more akin to Loki. He may have a rude sense of humor and assist in the occasional (justifiable) murder-suicide, but his church runs orphanages and is largely responsible for the enlightened views of homosexuality that most of Chalion's world has.
- Scars Are Forever
- Secretly Dying: Cazaril after his death magic is prevented from Balancing Death's Books properly. He gets better, thanks to some more divine intervention at the end.
- Shout-Out: In The Curse of Chalion a young dedicat describes a book that is clearly a parallel-universe version of The Canterbury Tales.
"It's a fine conceit," said Umegat. "The author follows a group of travelers to a pilgrimage shrine, and each one tells his or her tale in turn. Very, ah, holy."
- Not to mention the widow in the pilgrimage party that inspires Ista, who couldn't be more the Wife of Bath if she had that lady's name stamped on her forehead.
- Smug Snake: Dondo dy Jironal makes his big brother look good.
- Spare to the Throne: Shows up peripherally in The Hallowed Hunt, as the eldest son of the hallowed King has already died. Succession politics aren't central to the plot, but they are a crucial detail.
- Take a Third Option: A Magnificent Bastardly subversion of this originates the enmity between Cazaril and Dondo.
- Taking You with Me: In a really crazy villainous version, Horseriver wants to take the souls of his dead warriors into oblivion with him, to spite the gods.
- That Old Time Prescription: Ingrey was given a pain-reliving medication made from poppies (among other things).
- That Was the Last Entry: Cazaril finds a diary belonging to a man who practiced death magic. When he finds himself wanting to practice death magic in turn, he realizes that he only actually has to read the very end of the diary to figure out what worked...
- Trickster Mentor: the Bastard.
- Warrior Poet: Jokol
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Arhys to his father, the Chancellor dy Lutez, until the man's death.
"I had a real father. Arhys...had a dream."
- When He Smiles: Ijada thinks Ingrey's smile is devastating.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Centuries of byzantine political plotting actually all boiled down to Horseriver trying to die.
- Xanatos Gambit: the gods can mostly only interfere in the world by nudging people, so they do a lot of these. Horseriver does this as well in his attempts to spite them.